Thursday, March 22, 2012

Peace Corps Winters

Winter in Armenia seriously blows. No really, it’s windy! Not only is it windy but its dark and cold and snowy and miserable. I never realize just how much I have the winter blues until spring starts and all of a sudden I just feel my spirits lift for no reason. All of a sudden I don’t hate everything around me, I don’t want to walk around with my ear phones permanently glued to my ears,  and I don’t feel the need to eat everything in sight just to have something to do!!
This winter was particularly difficult for me, and to be honest I have never felt more alone in my life. For all of you Eastern European future PCV’s out there let me try to paint a picture of winter life in the Peace Corps.
You wake up in the morning and no matter what time it is, it’s dark outside. Sometimes you flip on your light switch to help aid you in getting ready for work, but no light shines (a storm blew out the power). This also means that your heater most likely doesn’t work either. You get dressed in the dark, drink a cup of coffee to warm you up and go to work, in my case school. Walking is a challenge. Most of the walkways are covered in snow, which means it takes you longer to get to your destination, meaning more time in the freezing cold. If they are not covered in snow, they are covered in ice, which means you fall, over and over again you fall on your ass. Sometimes you are lucky and no one sees, but you live in a village where everyone is always watching you, meaning someone will see you. They laugh at you, hey, the first few times you laugh at yourself, it is funny after all, but after about 2 months of this, you stop laughing. You get to the bus station only to realize your bus has already left, bus drivers have no patience in the winter. So you either suck it up and walk to school in the snow, or if you happen to have extra money you take a taxi… no one has extra money in the winter, it costs too much to heat your tiny apartment that will never really seem warm at all anyways.  You get to school, none of your colleagues are in a good mood, its winter and they like you have no money. Typically there is a lot less conversation in the teacher’s lounge. People are crabby. At first snow is fun for the children and they indulge in snow fights; if you’re like me, you love the sound of the children laughing, but soon that sound turns into children coughing and blowing their nose. Everyone is sick and no one gives a damn when you too catch the cold going around. Your throat hurts your eyes and nose run pretty much for 4 months straight. Your hair is always a mess. You are not a local; you don’t have superhero powers to always stay neat and tidy. When you walk to work in the snow your hair gets wet and messy. Everyone gives you dirty looks of disapproval.  Your boots get muddy when the snow melts, once again every gives you a dirty look for having dirty boots. You ask them how they could possibly stay so clean, but they don’t share with you their secret ways; most of the time you are ashamed.  After classes you show up to your clubs with an awesome lesson plan that you spent all night creating, only to find out that everyone went home because it is too cold. After a few more of these experiences you cancel club all together and your organization labels you as a slacker.
After work you walk home. On the way home you stop at the local store to buy something to eat for dinner/ lunch. You think to yourself, tonight I am going to make something different, something delicious but as you walk around the store you realize that the produce stock hasn’t changed for months, cabbage, potatoes beets and sometimes if you’re lucky carrots. Looks like another night of borscht. You tell yourself its ok, because hey you actually kind of like borscht, and you could always make potatoes in one of the 50 different ways you’ve learned to prepare them since moving to your site.  But, after 2 months cabbage makes you gag and if you have to eat another potato you are going to cry. Not that I have ever hated potatoes but my body has learned to hate them after about the 15th pound that I have gained since joining the Peace Corps. Finally you get home and realize that it is only 3:00, in an hour from now it will be dark. You prepare lunch, go to your favorite chair, or bed, and curl up under your blankets, as close to your heater as possible. You drink your third cup of tea for the day, begin to read a book and fall asleep. After your nap, you wake up turn on the lights as it is now pitch black, and watch an episode of some tv show that the community of PCV’s have downloaded and shared. You may not even like the show, but as soon as it’s finished you watch the next episode and the next, and the next, until it’s time to eat dinner. You warm up the soup that you made for lunch and eat as you watch another tv episode. If you are studious you decide it’s time to study for your GRE’s or to make lesson plans for the next day. If not you play around on facebook, as you watch yet another episode of some tv show that you hated but are now addicted to.  Finally at about 10 pm you decide that it is now an acceptable time to go to sleep, so you put your blankets over your heater to warm them up before crawling into bed, you get your favorite book and a night light (because once you get under those covers there is no way you are going to want to get out just to turn off the light) and you go to bed…..
Are there variations to this??? Yes of course, some volunteers would add drinking half a bottle of vodka at night to keep warm. Some have site mates and watch movies with a site mate. Also some nights you skype before going to bed. But mostly this is my experience of an Eastern European winter. So as you can see it is very easy to think that you hate everything, including Peace Corps, your town, your host country, and even your dog really. It’s been a looooong hard winter, and I know that in actuality it is not quite over yet, but I am so thankful for these past three spring days we have had in spitak. I can’t wait for the summer! Soon I will never have to live through another winter again! 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Things you see while walking the streets of spitak 2

So a few weeks ago I published a picture blog of all the strange things I see while walking around town... here
This is basically a continuation of that blog as I have had a week of spring break and not too much to do, I have been taking mini one to two hour hiking trips with Sophie, just going places we have never gone before... Here are some pictures from today's trip which was mostly warm weather and tons of mud. At one point I was ankle deep in the stuff!!! I was so ashamed walking back into the city center covered in mud, everyone staring at me... oh wait, they always stare at me no matter what!!! Point in case, yesterday I was walking with Sophie and off to the side were three little old me. I hear one of them say, this girl speaks Armenian. and the other says che ha?! (No yes?) the third says no she doesn't, she doesn't speak it at all. The first one raises his voice now and says Yes she does. She speaks very clean and proper Yerevan Armenian, and she even knows Spitak slang.... I am walking with my head down trying not to let on that I understand but trying to hold back from laughing at the same time. I don't know why I don't just interject and say well actually I do speak Armenian, I guess part of me likes that people don't think I understand them and talk about me as if I am not around. The other part is once people find out I speak Armenian we have a good solid ten minute conversation before they say something I don't understand, and then they are disappointed in me. It is just funny to me that after all this time, people in the streets are still so curious about me.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

An Armenian Engagement party

Recently I went to an Armenian engagement party. The first that I have ever been to. Manya and Gayane, teachers at my school, were throwing the party for there brother. My counterpart and I arrived a bit early to the party and played with Gayane's babies as they set up for the party. Manya's mother makes the best gata in all of Armenia, really, and kept insisting that I eat some, and I happily obliged, no wonder I have gained so much weight in this country!!!

When school was finished the rest of the teacher's from our school joined us at the house and we all sat down for a delicious and typical Armenian feast... there was just one problem, where were the bride and the groom?? No one seemed to mind that they had no showed up. We ate and drank toasts in their honor, but not once did anyone mention when they would come, or if they would come. Finally after we had been at the party for half an hour the groom came. He took a shot with us and then retired to the kitchen. We continued to eat in Armenian fashion until the bride came in. Now the bride had no relations to any of us at the party. We all in fact were only friends with the groom's sisters, but we made a seat for at the table, filled her plate with food and made toasts to her. I sat and watched her and couldn't help but to think of how strange she felt or how out of place. Here she was at her very own engagement party, without a single friend of her own. Her groom to be in the kitchen with his father, and strangers on each side of her. Her presence merely as a figure head, a sort of doll to be admired but nothing more. Soon the teachers began to dance, as the teachers at my school always do, and they demanded that she join them, and she did very timidly. As I watched, I tried to imagine what she was feeling. Was she nervous? Did she wish her groom would come and rescue her from a room full of strangers, as I most certainly would had I been her? Her face was blank and hard to read, but luckily it was explained to me that there are many engagement parties that a bride and groom go to, some will be with her relatives and friends, and some with his. I have been to 4 or 5 weddings here and I still can't get over how little the bride has to do with everything. How little attention she garners, and how much the family takes. It seems to me that Armenian weddings, are in the most part about the grooms family and have very little to do with the couple themselves. I can't help but to compare it with American weddings where attention is lavished on the bride, and everything tells a story of the couples love. There are many Armenian traditions that I love, but the more I learn about the weddings here, the sadder I feel for the bride. Just once I would like to go to an Armenian wedding where the bride smiles as if it is the best day of her life and she is truly happy. Just once I want to see her family happy and crying tears of happiness not sadness. Just once I want to feel as if the couple is so in love that they can't live without each other. I know that there are many weddings here where that is the case, I just haven't seen one yet